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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Marine biodiversity initiative for Central America: international partnership for research and training on marine biodiversity and genomics

PI: Jorge Huéte-Pérez (Universidad Centroamericana - UCA)
U.S. Partner: Martin Polz (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Project Dates: August 2013 to February 2015
The goal of this initiative is to assemble an international network of scientists to train local researchers and assist them in the study of neglected Mesoamerican coastal marine biodiversity and the impact of climate change (e.g., via ocean acidification), specifically in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. A cross-disciplinary approach that integrates taxonomy, molecular biology, and genomic techniques with biodiversity conservation will be used. This network will identify gaps in knowledge to determine the course of more in-depth research on the current status of marine biodiversity in Mesoamerica, leading to the development of collaborative programs on the sustainable use of marine resources and better understanding of anthropogenic influences on ocean biodiversity. The project will begin with the first International Conference on Central American Marine Biodiversity and Genomics to be held in Nicaragua. It will be followed by planning sessions and committee building to create an international network to develop a strategy for advancing marine biodiversity research and conservation in the region. The network will hold training and project development workshops during which students and scientists will be trained in sample collection, DNA sequencing, and data sharing, in addition to field training. The conference will present previously prepared discussion papers on priorities for research and the development of collaborative plans. Participants will discuss the scope and objectives, further training needs and outreach mechanisms, roles and responsibilities, expected development outcomes, data sharing, project sustainability, and funding.

Nicaragua 2
The group takes water samples at Isla Juan Venado, Nicaragua (Photo courtesy Dr. Huéte-Pérez).

Nicaragua 3
U.S. partner Martin Polz and Dr. Libusha Kelly giving a lecture (Photo courtesy Dr. Huéte-Pérez). 

This initiative expects to advance scientific and technical knowledge for informing development-related policies by building regional capacities on marine biodiversity and conservation, improve the capacity of local institutions, enhance the technical infrastructure of local, and impact the broader community in the region through partnerships between researchers, community leaders, authorities, educators and students. An asset of this project is the current pilot work of Dr. Huéte-Pérez and his team in the Gulf of Fonseca, which is committed to fostering the “sustainable use of its marine and coastal resources and the integrated management of its ecosystems” through trinational cooperation. UCA has teamed with the European Union to work with communities in the Gulf to create a consciousness of the value of their marine resources. The expanded human resource capacity coupled with substantive advancement in the knowledge base relating to the coastal ecosystem will enable more appropriate public policies and decision making relating to the marine biodiversity coastal zones. The project will contribute to setting the stage for eventual commercial activities based on local stewardship of coastal resources and on diversification of the coastal economy.
Summary of Recent Activities
In coordination with U.S. partner Dr. Martin Polz, Dr. Jorge Huéte-Pérez and colleagues at the Molecular Biology Center of the University of Central America held a field research and training workshop in Managua March 10-14, 2014. The purpose of the workshop was to assemble an international network of research scientists to train local scientists and assist them in the study of neglected Mesoamerican coastal marine biodiversity and climate change impacts in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. Topics covered included marine microbial biodiversity and genomics tools, field techniques, and bioinformatics. The meeting was attended by a dozen delegates from various Central American universities. After morning lectures by eminent scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the delegates did afternoon fieldwork in the Juan Venado Island Nature Reserve to gain experience in using the latest bioinformatics tools.
Dr. Huéte-Pérez, Dr. Polz, and other project team members followed up on the successful March workshop by organizing the VII Nicaraguan Biotechnology Conference on Central American Marine Biodiversity and Genomics. The conference was held May 8-9, 2014, in Montelimar. Future plans for the project include compiling available information to create a baseline for the status of marine biodiversity in Nicaragua so that gaps in knowledge and possible research priorities may be identified. In addition, the project team is planning to coordinate a meeting between Central American and U.S. scientists to plan additional follow-up activities, with aim of developing a future collaborative project on Central American marine biodiversity and conservation.

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